I almost always receive positive responses to the alt.spleen FAQ. However, I recently received a very negative response from one Herbert Miller, at that great bastion of human rights, the Jet Propulsion Laboratories at NASA. I'm including this letter, and my reply, because I feel that they reflect exactly what's wrong with the Internet today.
Date: 05 Mar 1997 21:35:53 -0800 From: Herbert D Miller <Herbert.D.Miller@jpl.nasa.gov> To: Return requested <email@example.com> Subject: Spleen FAQ I was seriously wondering why anyone would crowd the internet with the spleen FAQ. It is useless. It is not funny. It is not informative, yet it shows up when someone searches for spleen. It is almost impossible to tell what is fact and what is farce. Is this some kind fraternity prank? I really believe that this kind of psuedo-info will be part of the downfall of the internet. Suggestion: If you want to have a spleen FAQ, then have a good, informative one. If you want to have a farcical spleen FAQ, then have one of those, also. But please try not to mix the two. Herb Miller
To which I replied:
Date: Wed, 5 Mar 1997 21:40:56 -0500 (EST) From: Andrew Stellman <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: Herbert D Miller <Herbert.D.Miller@jpl.nasa.gov> Subject: Re: Spleen FAQ So mister Herbert D. Miller doesn't approve of the alt.spleen FAQ. He thinks that everything that is funny should have the disclaimer "WARNING: MAY CONTAIN HUMOR" written on it in big, black, thick magic marker. Better not make anyone have to think. No, we'd better not do that! Heaven forbid we cause undue mental stimulation. Boy, wouldn't that just be a crime? You're obviously new to the Internet, because anyone who's been online for more than a year or two would never write a message like yours. I've been on the Internet for a hell of a long time. I've been maintaining the alt.spleen FAQ for years (probably longer than you've even known the word "Internet"), and I've never received a message like yours before. I have, however, received many messages of thanks. I usually get one once every few weeks. They usually go something like this: "Dear andrew, thank you for putting up the alt.spleen FAQ. I've recently had a splenectomy, and this really brought up my spirits." Or "Dear andrew, my son just had acute mono, and your FAQ really cheered him up." And just the other day I actually received a message from someone who said they thought that the FAQ was one of the funniest things they've seen on the Internet. I've also been interviewed in Internet Underground magazine about the alt.spleen FAQ. They seemed to enjoy it a great deal. It's in issue #7 ("The Dark Issue") -- check it out. I've received messages asking for information about the spleen. As any doctor at cocktail party will tell you, people are always searching for free medical advice. (Not you, I'm sure! I'm just *sure* you weren't just looking for some free advice about the spleen! You're *far* *above* that, I'm sure! You were probably searching for "spleen" for some higher educational purpose that has absolutely nothing to do with trying to get some medical advice without paying for it.) here's a hint: free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it. At any rate, if the only problem with your message was just that you didn't like the FAQ, I'd blow it off entirely. But that's not what pisses me off about your message. Do you want to know what I'm really sick of? Do you? What really stinks about your self-righteous attitude? What ticks me off about your whiny, self-righteous message is that for some reason you seem to believe that the Internet exists to serve up information just for Herbert D. Miller. You seem to be under the impression that it's some sort of huge public library, all set up at great expense, just for *your* consumption. It's as if you believe that web search engines are there to provide information for *you*, and damn it, you *deserve* some sort of guarantee that the information returned to you will be useful and contain what you were looking for, and HOW DARE someone maintain something that doesn't jibe with what Herbert D. Miller believes is worthy of being published? Clearly, Herbert D. Miller is the be-all end-all judge of content, and anything that doesn't live up to his high standards of press ought not be published at all. I'm sure your intentions were nothing but pristine when you wrote your message. You just felt that the alt.spleen FAQ isn't worthy of publishing, and that I should take it down and never post it again, as a service to the rest of the Internet community. Well, what you sent me is a perfect example of what we, the people, commonly refer to as censorship. "No, I would never engage in censorship!" you loudly, self-righteously proclaim to yourself. "I was just trying to clear up some of the garbage that clutters the information superhighway! I had only good intentions in mind when I sent that message." The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Most censorship is done with only the highest moral purposes in mind. "We must protect the children". "We have a responsibility to keep this from cluttering up our bandwidth". "You'll see, it's in everyone's best interest if we disallow that sort of material from being published". "That sort of thing has no business here." These are all phrases uttered with good intentions. I'm reminded of a recent interview on a prime-time TV news magazine show with someone who ran a site with his own theories about the TWA Flight 800 disaster. He firmly believed that a missle destroyed the plane, and the entire site was devoted to disseminating this theory, including lots of images, and animation of a missle actually hitting the plane, and of course countless "facts", none of which were backed up with the slightest amount of research. The interviewer was completely outraged that a site like this was "allowed" to exist on the Internet. "What if nine-year-old boy were doing a report on this?" she asked. "How would he know if your site were true or not?" To which the man who runs the site replied, "He wouldn't." You say in your letter that documents like the alt.spleen FAQ will be the "downfall of the Internet". Well, I say that it's exactly documents like the alt.spleen FAQ which show us the true value of the Internet, and teach us not to take everything that's published at face value. It's a lesson that you should have learned with books, magazines, newsletters and other published material. But the problem with those more traditional forms of publishing is that the cost is too high for every individual to publish everything they want to publish. This meant that some sort of editiorial control has to be delegated to one person, an editor, who controls what can or can not be published. So even though free speech is embodied in pubished material, there is a built-in censorship (in the form of an editor) for every form of publishing that takes a large initial investment to print. And we, the people, have become complacent in the last century or so. We've delegated to the editors the task of sorting the printable from the unprintable, the pressworthy from the crap. And in many cases, editors have abused that priveledge. Now, enter the Internet. We finally have a medium through which everyone can easily publish anything they want. Sorting out the good from the bad becomes everybody's business, not just the business of the select few who can afford to print their glossy magazines and hardcover books. While you feel that the alt.spleen FAQ will be the "downfall of the Internet", I feel that it's exactly this sort of document that will show us how valuable the Internet really is. We are now all editors, and we are now all publishers, and our work can now be judged on its merit alone. If you find this concept threatening, then maybe you should rethink your political views. So take a good, hard look at the alt.spleen FAQ, and think about what I've told you. The Internet isn't your encyclopedia. It's a medium where people can publish anything they want, and at some point you and everyone else are going to have to realize that there are no guarantees about the kind of information that people will publish. There is no guarantee that what you're reading on the Internet is true or even worth the disk space that it takes up, any more than there is a guarantee that what you're reading in a magazine or in a book or in a newsletter is true or worth the paper it's printed on. That's the beauty of free speech, that's why free speech is dangerous to the status quo, why free speech is the sword in the hand of the meek against the mighty, and why free speech is an ideal that must be protected. That's why I live in the United States of America, the land of the free, where the right to free speech is guaranteed in the very first amendment to our Constitution. So you're going to have to learn to live with the alt.spleen FAQ, because despite your small attempt to censor it, it's not going anywhere. Sincerely, Andrew Stellman Maintainer of the alt.spleen FAQ
Like most New Yorkers, I thought I'd seen it all, but life has a way of throwing you a curve every now and then. This became clear when I got the following message from Samantha Carroll, who is on the production staff of the American syndicated TV show "Flipper":
Date: Mon, 17 Aug 1998 16:55:28 +1000 From: Flipper 3 <email@example.com> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: spleens Hi there - I was wondering if you could help me. My name is Samantha and I'm working on a production for American TV, being filmed in Australia. It is the third series of 'Flipper'. In an upcoming episode, we need a character to have an accident, seem like she's okay for a couple of hours, and then deteriorate rapidly, lapsing into shock and then unconsciousness, leaving her life in danger. Could you tell me if a ruptured spleen would have these effects on somebody? If the bleeding did not rupture the abdominal cavity until she deteriorated? Thanks for your time, and I look forward to your response. Samantha Carroll
I was tempted to try to negotiate consulting fees, but my conscience got the better of me and I sent the following reply:
Date: Mon, 17 Aug 1998 09:36:20 -0400 (EDT) From: andrew stellman <email@example.com> To: Flipper 3 <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: spleens On Mon, 17 Aug 1998, Flipper 3 wrote: > In an upcoming episode, we need a character to have an accident, seem > like she's okay for a couple of hours, and then deteriorate rapidly, > lapsing into shock and then unconsciousness, leaving her life in danger. > Could you tell me if a ruptured spleen would have these effects on > somebody? If the bleeding did not rupture the abdominal cavity until she > deteriorated? > > Thanks for your time, and I look forward to your response. Before I answer, could you tell me why are you asking some guy on the internet who claims to have no medical knowledge, rather than calling a doctor? I'll give you an answer, but you probably know as much as I do about internal medicine. Andrew